This morning President Donald Trump called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to notify him of his intention to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to a spokesperson for President Abbas. Trump also called Jordan’s King Abdullah to notify him, according to reports out of Jordan.
— Palestine PLO – NAD (@nadplo) December 5, 2017
Israeli press is also reporting Trump made additional calls to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, to relate his plans.
Trump is expected to announce his plans tomorrow.
Channel 2’s Dana Weiss, the reporter who broke the story that Trump plans to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital this week, commented on social media that Trump and Netanyahu coordinated the move in advance, intentionally leaving Abbas and Arab heads of state in the dark until today.
Late this afternoon, Netanyahu’s office emailed reporters that the Israeli prime minister will make a speech at Jerusalem’s Waldorf Astoria tomorrow, immediately following Trump’s remarks.
Responses from Ramallah reflect shock. Abbas had a frenzied morning after his talks with Trump, reaching out to U.S. allies and foreign influencers, including Vladimir Putin, in a last-ditch effort to change the course of U.S. policy. The Palestinian leader also phoned pleas to Morocco and Jordan, according to the Palestinian outlet Wafa.
Earlier today, Wafa reported details about Trump’s call to Abbas stating his intention to move the embassy. Abbas “warned of the dangerous repercussions of such step on the [long-stalled] peace process, security and stability in the region and the world,” according to his spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh.
The PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi said moving the embassy would “guarantee the destruction of the two-state solution.” She chided Trump for ignoring “repeated words of advice and caution from all concerned and from global leaders.” She went on:
“President Trump seems to be hell-bent on annihilating the chances of peace and destroying the stability and security of the entire region and beyond, provoking violence and playing into the hands of extremists and terrorists around the world. He is willfully committing an act of the utmost folly which is not only illegal but also designed to inflame religious and spiritual sentiments, and raise the specter of sectarianism and religious strife.”
For the Palestinian leadership, Trump’s Jerusalem gambit would constitute a betrayal of agreements signed during the Oslo peace process in the 1990’s. Palestinians were promised that the status of the capital, Jerusalem, was part of negotiations that would ultimately give them sovereignty.
With the exception of Russia, which recently recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, no country acknowledges Israel’s claim to sovereignty over Jerusalem. No country has an embassy in Jerusalem.
That U.S. commitment on Jerusalem was circulated on social media in the hours after Trump and Abbas’ call by spokesperson for the PLO, Xavier Abu-Eid, who posted a copy of a 1991 letter from James Baker that has guided American policy for nearly three-decades in brokering Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
“The United States understands how much importance Palestinians attach to the question of east Jerusalem,” Baker wrote, “Thus, we want to assure you that nothing Palestinians do in choosing their delegation members in this phase of the process will affect their claim to east Jerusalem, or be prejudicial or precedential to the outcome of negotiations. It remains the firm position of the United States that Jerusalem must never again be a divided city and that its final status should be decided by negotiations.”
Baker also said in no uncertain terms that the U.S. does “not recognize Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem” and encouraged “all sides to avoid unilateral acts that would exacerbate local tensions or make negotiations more difficult or preempt their final outcome.”
Today in Washington State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert declined to state Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s position on moving the embassy and skirted questions about a travel warning issued by the U.S. Consul-General in Jerusalem barring government employees from visiting Jerusalem’s Old City and the West Bank, in anticipation of “widespread calls for demonstrations.”
Many journalists posited that Trump will not move the embassy, and instead through a statement will recognize it as Israel’s capital. Although, no sources are on the record to confirm this.
On MSNBC, White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski reported that Trump will sign the latest waiver, meaning that the U.S. Embassy will stay in Tel Aviv for another six months, but that he will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announce his intention to move the embassy there ultimately. Bloomberg is reporting the same.
Aaron David Miller described such an outcome as disastrous: it will “set the stage perhaps for violence” and undermine the U.S. role as a broker in a peace process that is “comatose” anyway.
“Jerusalem is a tinderbox waiting for a match,” Miller said. The President could seek to balance his announcement by saying that the U.S. intends to recognize a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, but “that would drive the Israelis crazy” and antagonize the political forces Trump is seeking to placate with the announcement.
Martin Indyk postulated that Trump’s strategy is to: “sign waiver for last time; order relocation of embassy in next 6 months; recognize J’m as Israel’s capital; and recognize Pal aspiration to have east J’m as their capital, to be decided in negotiations.”
The liberal Zionist group J Street issued an alarmed statement saying the reported plan is a “profound mistake” that reverses longstanding U.S. policy, and only 20 percent of US Jews support the idea.
The effect of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or of declaring that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital prior to a negotiated agreement will be to anger key Arab allies, foment regional instability and undermine nascent US diplomatic efforts to resolve the larger conflict.
Americans for Peace Now has called the plan “pyromaniacal” and a gift to those looking “to blow up a peace process before it begins.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition is excited by the news.
Obama’s ambassador to Israel approved the plan but said Trump should use the shift to “make clear the context in which our (still-delayed, but impending) embassy move will take place: US determination to achieve a conflict-ending two-state solution in which both parties have capitals in a unified city of Jerusalem.”
This article was updated at 5:30 p.m.